Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant sees HIAL plans as "another nail driven into the coffin of rural communities".
Plans to close Air Traffic Control towers at Stornoway and Benbecula Airports continue to draw criticism from island politicians.
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, is deeply concerned that the announcement from Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) to move their Air Traffic Control operations from the local airport control towers to a virtual network controlled from a centralised location.
Alongside Stornoway and Benbecula Airports in the Western Isles, other HIAL airports affected will include Sumburgh, Wick, John O’ Groats, Kirkwall, Dundee and Inverness. HIAL airports at Barra, Tiree, Islay and Campbeltown will not be affected by changes as they have different levels of air traffic usage.
Ms Grant said: “I have been inundated with concerns as to what this will mean for the individuals and their families as well as the communities who have many people working extremely hard to attract skilled workers to their island and remote communities.
“On the Western Isles, for instance, we are seeing damaging centralisation initiatives been driven through despite the fears and views of the stakeholder community in areas of Dentist provision, Banking, and now Air Travel.”
Last year HIAL employed consultancy firm Helios to review its Air Traffic Management operations, and have decided to adopt the firm’s recommendations to move towards broadband based virtual control towers.
The company’s Managing Director, Inglis Lyon, announced that they are looking to invest £28 million into the pursuit of virtual control towers, and suggested the controversial move would help “future proof” HIAL’s operations.
Ms Grant continued: “I met with Inglis Lyon last April about virtual control towers and was given the assurance that no decisions had been made. It is therefore difficult to understand this latest announcement from HIAL who now seem intent on removing highly skilled jobs from local airports, many of whom are in areas suffering from extremely fragile economic pressures.
“HIAL are wholly owned by the Scottish Government who are proposing ‘Island Proofing’ of all decisions and this appears to fly in the face of that.
“The loss of highly skilled jobs will be devastating in areas of our country that can ill afford them. Reliance on poor and non-existent broadband for the air traffic control function which is critical to air passenger safety is also a concern,” she added.
“I would have thought that investment in the dedicated staff who have facilitated a 15.4% growth in passenger numbers last year would be better value for money.
“There is now a group of highly trained staff who are uncertain about their future and I worry about the impact this will have on them. I truly believe that this plan needs to be reassessed and if staff can work remotely then surely they can do that from their current base.”
Mrs Grant concluded: “I will be seeking further meetings with HIAL and represent the concerns of my constituents. Unfortunately, this seems to be another nail being driven into the coffin of rural communities by a centralisation seeking Scottish Government.”